Boston’s “Methadone Mile” and the Wars on Drug Users, Unhoused People
Four gentrifying Boston neighborhoods—Roxbury, Dorchester, the South End and South Boston—collide and form the intersection of Massachusetts Ave and Melnea Cass Blvd, named for a revered Roxbury civil rights leader. For short, “Mass and Cass.”9 Feb 2021
Four gentrifying Boston neighborhoods—Roxbury, Dorchester, the South End and South Boston—collide and form the intersection of Massachusetts Ave and Melnea Cass Blvd, named for a revered Roxbury civil rights leader. For short, “Mass and Cass.”
The area is described pejoratively as “Methadone Mile” and non-pejoratively as “Recovery Road.” One thing is clear, Mass and Cass is ground zero for twin wars: the wars on people who use drugs and people experiencing homelessness.
Deafening traffic noise from MBTA buses, flatbed tractor-trailers, cars, ambulances and police vehicles with sirens on full blast provides the intersection’s jarring soundtrack. The timing of traffic lights is confusing. Sixteen lanes of traffic converge on one of Boston’s five most dangerous intersections for pedestrians and cyclists, with an average of at least two injuries per month. It is this hazardous crossing that hundreds of people who are unhoused, using drugs and experiencing severe mental health issues must traverse daily to access services.
On a sizzling, sticky day last summer, the stretch is crowded with people socializing and taking care of business. A man rides by on a blue Citi Bike with a syringe between his teeth. A woman is hugging someone who is crying; I overhear that a good friend just died of an overdose. People pass by with the assistance of wheelchairs, canes, rolling walkers, plastic boot casts and back braces.
Sellers offer “Johnnies, Addies, Klonopins, Dubs.” A woman in a stained, gray sweat suit rolls by in a broke-ass wheelchair. She’s smoking and selling K2. A man carrying a black backpack announces, “Newports.” “How much?” I ask. $10. Menthol cigarettes are banned in Massachusetts and a bustling illicit market has sprung up, supplied by neighboring states.
A mobile sharps team is picking up discarded syringes. A church group set up a rack of free clothing, where they’re also handing out fresh fruit and bottled water. People offer each other snacks, cigarettes and face masks.
Two opposite worlds face off against one another here. On the Newmarket Industrial District side of the divide, there are two methadone clinics: Boston Comprehensive Treatment Center and Health Care Resource Centers Boston. They sit amid a polluted, deindustrialized no-man’s-land of empty parking lots, and abandoned warehouses behind barbed wire fences or motorized metal gates with slates in the shape of spears.Share this on: